Seven Components of a New Reformation (Part 3)
This post completes the summaries.
7. Transformed church governance
It appears that every form of church governance, from highly hierarchical (e.g., Catholic) to highly democratic (e.g., Congregational) and everything in-between has been corrupted by secular ideology. Nor does it seem likely that any established denomination will agree to change their existing form of governance.
Obviously I’m in no position to comment on denominations beyond the PCUSA. However, significant light can be shed by this experience to suggest some general conclusions.
The fundamental point about the demise of the PCUSA is that it was an act of “murder” as opposed to “suicide.” By these (shocking I expect) metaphors I mean that the rank and file members resisted the apostasy of the leadership for decades. In fact, it appears that it was only by subversion of the governance process that the leadership was able to gain the upper hand. The “fingerprint” of this betrayal can be seen in the following figure.
The 2006 Subversion
Note that from 1999 through 2006 the number of churches “dismissed” (i.e., exited the denomination) was negligible. Over this same time period we see a general increase in the number of members lost. However, in 2008 the number of dismissed churches and lost members became significantly worse than the general trend would lead one to expect. Did anything happen in the PCUSA to cause this or was it simply random variation? It was the former.
Here is the report of a pastor on the 2006 General Assembly that tells the tale (emphasis added).
A number of years ago our denomination’s constitution was amended to limit ordination to those who are faithful in marriage, which is between one man and one woman, or chaste in singleness. This wording was approved by a majority of the regional bodies, and re-approved twice by larger majorities each time. At the time it was added it was not a new limitation, but made explicit an understanding that had historically been practiced within the denomination (and for that matter in nearly all Christian denominations).
What made the PUP Report unconscionable was that it amends the denominational constitution by an unconstitutional process. It by-passed the regional bodies whose approval is required by the constitution itself. It is as though the U. S. Constitution were to be amended by a simple majority vote of Congress, by-passing the states. Advocates of the ordination of ineligible people, unable to change the constitution, proposed to “interpret” it by altering the meaning of the phrase “shall not” so that it from now on it means “may.” A prohibition was changed by interpretation into permission, because the advocates of change could not muster the votes to pass an amendment.
If you think that this description is a partisan distortion, note that it was confirmed by a national news source.
Like other mainline Protestant groups, Presbyterians have been debating for decades how they should interpret Scripture on salvation, truth, sexuality and other issues.
But tensions erupted after a June 2006 meeting, when delegates granted new leeway in some cases for congregations and regional presbyteries to sidestep a church requirement that clergy and lay officers limit sex to man-woman marriage.
Note that this subversion of church governance occurred after the “wording [on sexual requirements for leadership] was approved by a majority of the regional bodies, and re-approved twice by larger majorities each time.” The conclusion is unavoidable, that being the elite leadership chose to use corrupt means to get their way in direct contradiction of the denomination’s clear and legitimate will.
The loss of membership that followed the 2006 coup eventually allowed the Progressives to gain the upper hand. Here’s how I have previously described this process.
But because they had jettisoned the Bible and Confessions, other means of achieving their ends had to be found. Those means were abuse of the PCUSA’s rules, turning their democratic assumptions into cudgels by which to beat any opposition into submission. This was accomplished by making life miserable for any majority that opposed their radical ends, and eventually, to drive them out of the church.
The result has been a PCUSA transformed from a Christian denomination to something completely foreign.
The elite Progressive strategic goal was always to deceive, discredit, demoralize and ultimately destroy any and all opposition from orthodox-minded Christians.
In this cruel goal they have succeeded. Now they undisputedly control the PCUSA. To accomplish this end they have made it into a theological laughing stock and a pathetic little appendage to the secular Progressive political machine. And, having illegitimately achieved this position they now demand that those of us in opposition shut up or leave.
What lessons in church governance can we take from the appalling experience? I suggest the following as a starting point for reform, once again with a focus on the PCUSA.
- A semi-permeant denominational bureaucracy, centered in our Presbyteries and General Assembly, was allowed to grow too powerful over the past fifty years or so. They became the core, unstoppable force that sustained unwanted movements over the decades of theological/political warfare necessary to grind down opposition. This class of nomenklatura has virtually no allegiance to Christianity as a lived faith and total allegiance to the diktats of secular Progressive ideology. Therefore, any reformed form of denominational governance must dissolve this power base and prevent its regrowth.
- As much as I love our historic (i.e., pre-1968) Confessions it must be admitted that they have proved ineffective as defensible boundaries for orthodox theology. One obvious issue is their age, thus rendering their language almost incomprehensible to contemporary minds. But a second major issue is their scope, comprehensiveness and number. That is, they are so all-encompassing and complex, so many in number, that the core doctrines of Christianity become difficult to discern. Thus, though they must not be lost, we need a simpler, clearer definition of orthodox Christian doctrine upon which to build a reformed church.
- Financial accountability must be reestablished between our governing and educational institutions and the laity. Therefore, financial support must move from the current “Per-Capita” involuntary tax to a voluntary system of local church support. By this means our institutions would have to “earn their keep” by demonstrating their effectiveness and efficiency.
Clearly the above ideas are short on implementation detail. However, unless we identify the top-level goals of reformed governance the whole process can be easily derailed.